Statement from Joy Ilem
“Last week, allegations were brought by a woman veteran who reported she was sexually assaulted by a fellow patient at the Washington DC Medical Center while waiting for her appointment. The veteran—who happens to be the senior policy advisor on the Congressional Women Veterans Task Force charged with promoting inclusivity and equitable access to resources, benefits, and health care for women veterans—was carrying a copy of draft bill to combat sexual assault and harassment at the time of the incident.
It is absolutely unacceptable that a veteran should be unable to access their earned care without risk of harassment or assault, and it paints a very real picture of a culture that, in many cases, continues to stand as a barrier to women seeking care through the VA. Women veterans who choose to utilize their earned VA benefits and health care deserve the same expectation of safety and respect as their male counterparts. This type of behavior is never tolerable, but it is perhaps even more egregious when one considers it was perpetrated by another veteran.
For years, DAV has worked to bring this issue to light, advocating for real culture change at the VA. We challenged the VA to lead the way in changing their culture into one of inclusivity in our comprehensive women veterans report—Women Veterans: The Long Journey Home—released in 2014, and again in our updated report—Women Veterans: The Journey Ahead—released last fall. Sadly though, as we work toward change, incidents like these continue to occur.
The VA has done tremendous work at many facilities to create an environment in which women veterans feel secure, respected and well cared for. But we regularly hear from DAV members and the wider veteran community that this simply is not the standard across the country. This most recent incident goes to show the urgency with which the VA must act to ensure the safety of its women veteran population. VA leadership must address these discrepancies and prioritize this rapidly growing population immediately by holding its facilities to a much higher standard, ensuring women veterans are shown the respect they have earned through their service.”